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Whitmer closes all Michigan schools for three weeks due to coronavirus


March 30: Whitmer to end Michigan school year; seniors graduate, others move up
Related: Coronavirus closed Michigan schools for 3 weeks. CDC says that's not long enough

All of Michigan’s public schools will close for three weeks starting Monday, in an effort to thwart the spread of the potentially deadly coronavirus.

Schools will reopen April 6.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the closings at a late-night Thursday press conference, just hours after the number of confirmed Michigan coronavirus cases grew from two to 12.

“This is a necessary step to protect our kids, our families, and our overall public health,” said Whitmer. 

“I am working with partners across state government to ensure educators, parents, and students have the support they need during this time, and to ensure our children who rely on school for meals have access to food. I know this will be a tough time, but we’re doing this to keep the most people we can safe. I urge everyone to make smart choices during this time and to do everything they can to protect themselves and their families.” 

Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice said the decision is the “responsible choice that will minimize the risk of exposure for children, educators, and families and mitigate the spread of coronavirus,” 

“This is about protecting the most people in Michigan,” he said.

State officials scrambled Thursday to make arrangements for low-income children to continue to get the meals they receive for free at school - lunch and, at many schools, breakfast - in the interim while school buildings are closed.

In what appeared to be preparation for potential school closings, MDE requested Thursday that the federal government grant a waiver to allow Michigan schools to serve meals off-premises. It’s unclear what that would look like — deliveries to homes, or meal pickup available at the schools.

After the announcement, Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said on Twitter that the state’s largest district is “likely to offer students food over the three weeks. More details to come.”

The three-week closure includes one previously scheduled week of spring break at most schools. The additional 10 days of closure would leave many schools short of the state-required 180 days of school. Administration officials were trying to determine whether they would need to get approval from the Legislature to get a waiver on the 180-day rule.

At least one district is starting its break even earlier and ending it later than what Whitmer ordered. Birmingham Public Schools sent a text to parents following Whitmer's announcement saying it would begin closure on Friday and stay out a full month until Monday April 13, a week longer than what the state ordered. Birmingham students had a previously scheduled spring break the week of April 6. 

In general, children appear to be far less severely affected by the virus. But they can transmit it to more vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those with serious medical conditions.

Social distancing — limiting contact between individuals — is one way to curb the spread of the respiratory illness.

Michigan’s school closures capped a whirlwind 48 hours that saw the NBA season suspended, the NCAA basketball tournament cancelled and movie star Tom Hanks announcing he and his wife had been diagnosed with coronavirus. Nationally, there are now more than 1,600 confirmed cases and 40 deaths.

In a span of eight hours Wednesday, all of Michigan’s 15 public universities closed their classrooms and asked students to leave campus. Classes are continuing online.

Thursday afternoon, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced he was closing all public schools for a “three week spring break” beginning Monday, March 16.

“We have to take this action,” DeWine said on Twitter. “We have to do everything we can to slow down the spread of this virus.”

Schools in Kentucky and Maryland are also closed.

When told of Ohio’s closures Thursday afternoon, Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the governor’s office had no new guidance for schools beyond her mitigation recommendations made Wednesday, which emphasized avoiding gatherings of more than 100 students in one place but stopped short of calling for schools to close.

Seven school districts in Washtenaw County, where Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan are located, announced Thursday afternoon they were closing their buildings and converting to online-only learning beginning March 16.

Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Menzel said schools were left in a no-win situation — close as a precaution when there is no known community cases or risk waiting too long and having coronavirus spread through the schools.

“How do we know when to close? What risk are we willing to take?” Menzel said. “If you get to 1 percent [infection rate] in a community, it’s too late. As a superintendent, I want to be able to look every parent in the eye and tell them the decisions we made were in the best interests of the health and safety of their student.”

Menzel applauded Whitmer’s action. “I appreciate her courage to take a leadership role to address this growing public health concern,” he said.

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